Lecturer, School of Social Sciences, Waseda University
l Reports of the Japanese language edition of ‘the People’s Daily (Jinmin-mō: online)’ on the End of War Memorial Day shows a sign of the improvement of Japan-China relations.
l On the other hand, the Chinese language edition of ‘the People’s Daily (Jinmin-nippō: online)’ is still dominated by criticism against Japan.
l Different tone of ‘the People’s Daily’ between the Japanese version and Chinese version indicates that there is a range of different voices in Chinese government.
Abe’s Visit to the Yasuaki Shrine was Suspended
On the End of War Memorial Day in 2017, Prime Minister Shinzō Abe, as the President of the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP), sent a ritual offering to the Yasukuni Shrine, under his own name. Shibayama Masahiko, a special advisor to the prime minister, who made a sakaki tree offering on behalf of the Prime Minister at the shrine. Abe told Shibayama, ‘It was regrettable that I could not make it, but please accomplish your mission. His words told his complex mind: (News link).
On the 26th of December 2013, Abe as the Prime Minister, who took office a year ago, visited the Yasukuni Shrine for the first time in seven years. At that time, he expressed his great regret that he did not visit the shrine during his first cabinet: (News link). He suggested that he continued to visit the shrine with his statement. However, his visit sparked widespread international outrage. Not only China and South Korea, which had been criticising the visits of a member of the Japanese Cabinet, but also the US strongly criticised his visit. The prompt criticism made by the US was very unusual as saying, ‘the United States is disappointed that Japan’s leadership has taken an action that will exacerbate tensions in the region’: (News link). Japanese public opinion concerned an impact on the Japan-US Alliance, and Abe also took the statement by the US seriously. As a result, he has stopped vising the Yasukuni Shrine. This time of the year, he did not visit the shrine, either – his reaction deflected outrage.
In a Japanese context, the visit of the Prime Minister to the Yasukuni Shrine is a fundamental issue regarding the separation of politics and religion. However, for the international community, the visits to the Shrine is a complicated issue regarding war victims in the past as well as the international politics related to Japan-China relations and Japan-US relations. It is true to say that there is a range of opinions in accordance with standing point; however, it is not realistic to see this issue only in a Japanese domestic context. Indeed, the critical statement by the US brought the issue onto the international level.
China is well known for its strong opposition to the visits to the Yasukuni Shrine. While the issue is becoming international, reaction of Japan’s neighbouring countries especially China has been receiving attention. China is a country, which mostly suffered from the Pacific War.
Japanese Language Edition of the People’s Daily (Jinmin-mō: online) Showing a Sign of the Improvement of Japan-China Relations
China used to not have ‘the End of War Memorial Day’. The 3rd of September became ‘the Memorial Day for War against Japan’ in 2015, when the country met the 70th anniversary of the end of the war. After the enshrinement of the Class A war criminals, Prime Minister Nakasone Yasuhiro officially visited the shrine for the first time. Since then, Chinese government has been taking the visits seriously, and every year of the memorial day, Chinese media focus on the Yasukuni issue.
When Prime Minister Abe suspended his visit to the shrine in 2017, the online Japanese language edition of an official newspaper of the Chinese Communist Party, ‘Jinmin-mō’, briefly informed his decision with the headline saying, ‘Japanese Governmental Authorities visited the Yasukuni Shrine: Prime Minister Abe Sent a Ritual Offering while Postponed his Visit.’
On the 15th, website published a leader entitled, ‘Face the Past, Create Eternal Peace ’, and also put an article by 厖中鵬, a researcher at the Institute of Japanese Studies of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences (CASS), titled, ‘The 15th August: Unforgettable Memory’. The Jinmin-mō also introduced an NHK TV documentary about the Unit 731, which was broadcasted on the 13th. The paper cited comments by Professor Tanaka Yayoi at Osaka University on the documentary as saying, ‘How should we the Japanese face the fact of the Unit 731? We must not neglect our past’: (New link).
On the following day, online site of Jinmin-mō informed about the International Peace Meeting on the 72nd memorial of the victory for the Second Sino-Japanese War, which was held in Nanjing. The Jinmin-mō online had interviews with 厖中鵬 and 陳言, executive director of the Institute of Japanese Business Industry Studies, and stated their views on the issue regarding the visits to the Yasukuni Shrine: (News link). It also mentioned about reactions of the Japanese to the NHK TV documentary about the Unit 731, and introduced comments made by Okimatsu Nobuo, president of the 815 Japan-China Friendship Association, Okada Takashi, editor of Kyodo News, Ihara Toyoichi, chairman of the Nagasaki-ken Hibakusha Techō Tomo no Kai (an Association of Holders of A-bomb Survivors’ Certificates in Nagasaki Prefecture), and Matsuoka Tamaki, president of Meishinkai. (News link for comments). The Jinmin-mō online informed a press conference of Hua Chunying, spokesperson of the Foreign Ministry Information Department of the People’s Republic of China. She praised the TV documentary: (News link).
Notably, the Jinmin-mō online showed a clear sign of the improvement of Japan-China relations. For instance, 厖中鵬 argued, ‘We must not forget experiences and must learn from history. Even though historical events became the past phenomena, historical facts remain in our mind for a long time as memory’: (News link). He criticised the visits of a member of the Japanese Cabinet as always, but at the same time, pointed out the improvement of the Japan-China relations. He showed his hope for future-oriented efforts in a positive manner regarding the issue of the Yasukuni Shine as the following:
‘Japan-China relations has been recently improving. Japan must seize this opportunity to have further improvement through firm and practical actions. This means that Japan must learn from history, show its desire for peace, and should start to walk towards a different direction from they did in the past. It must make the world comfortable and make the day, the 15th of August, different.’
Chinese Language Edition of the People’s Daily (Jinmin-nippō: online) is still Critical of Japan
The People’s Daily in Chinese language edition on the 15th, mentioned old soldiers, who used to fight against Japan. The headline of an article said, ‘Don’t forget people, who brought us the victory.’ The People’s Daily praised old soldiers, highlighting the moment of the victory of the Chinese Communist Party over Japan, and emphasised the importance of peace. Regarding the Yasukuni Shrine, the Jinmin-nippō online published a leader, arguing ‘only facing history can have eternal peace.’
On the following day, the Jinmin-nippō online introduced criticism made by Japanese intellectuals: (News link), and also mentioned the NHK TV documentary about the Unit 731 in detail. Remarkably, there was a leader, which was not published in the Japanese language edition of the People’s Daily.
The title of this leader said, ‘How Japan can Talk about the Future, which has never stopped visiting apparitions. As the title suggested, the leader strongly criticised Japanese government. It accused Prime Minister Abe. This was because he sent a ritual offering to the Yasukuni Shrine, and had not mentioned Japan’s war responsibility for Asian countries at the National Memorial Service for War Dead for recent five years. The People’s Daily clearly criticised that Japanese government had been engaged in major cover-up over history: (News link).
The name of an author is (鐘声: Zhong Sheng). Zhong Sheng is the same sound with (中声: Zhong Sheng) in Chinese pronunciation, meaning ‘the voice of China’. The international news section of the People’s Daily has been using this pen-name since 2008, which indicates that articles represent opinions of Chinese leaders.
It is probably true to say that it took the time to have accurate translation or perhaps, an editor thought that it might have been too sensitive to publish this article in the Japanese version of the People’s Daily immediate after the 15th of August. As a result, this editorial article appeared in the Japanese site on the 17th – two days after the End of War Memorial Day: (News link).
Different Tone of ‘the People’s Daily’ between Japanese and Chinese Version Demonstrating Different Voices in Chinese Government
The basic argument of the Japanese language edition of the People’s Daily, Jinmin-mō, and the Chinese language edition of the People’s Daily, Jinmin-nippō, as well as a leader by Zhong Sheng, regarding the visits to the Yasukuni Shrine were the same. However, there were a clear difference amongst their arguments in terms of highlighting points, war responsibility of Japanese government and ordinary people.
In articles about the press conference of a spokesperson of the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs, they had positive opinions about Japanese reflection on their past, and showed Chinese promise to the improvement of Japan-China relations. On the other hand, although the leader written by Zhong Sheng stated the anti-war movement of Japanese ordinary people, Zhong Sheng expressed severe criticism against Japanese government.
There are two different directions of expression, one for the Japanese and the other for the Chinese. There is also different sentiment between a group of people including journalists, officers at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Japanologists, and the public relations office of Chinese government. This is not very surprising – there are a range of opinions about Japan even in monolithic Chinese government. Furthermore, within the time frame, opinions of Jinmin-nippō about the visits to the Yasukuni Shrine have not been always the same. It has had different opinions in accordance with ages.
China has very different newspaper coverage system from those of Japan. When we consider the ‘reconciliation’ between Japan and China, it is vital to understand the difference amongst mass media in China. It is particularly important to analyse their different expressions in both the domestic and foreign sphere.